There is an ultra fine line between winning and losing in the NHL and sometimes you need the bounces to go your way. On Friday night at the Verizon Center the Washington Capitals caught some breaks and won their seventh straight game against a desperate Carolina Hurricanes team, 2-1. Alexander Ovechkin notched his 28th goal of the season just 47 seconds into the third period to tie the contest and then Matt Hendricks potted a rebound of a Jason Arnott breakaway to win it for Washington 7:24 into the final stanza. Braden Holtby (40 saves) finally allowed a goal, after 144:24 of shutout netminding this week, to Tuomo Ruutu on a screened shot in the slot with 36 seconds remaining in period two but held on for his seventh win and #70 is now 7-2-2 this season. The victory combined with Tampa’s 2-1 loss to Ottawa gives the Capitals a four point lead in the Southeast Division. The Caps are now 39-20-10 (88 points) with 13 contests remaining while the Bolts still have a game in hand.
Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from the Caps fifth victory over the Canes in five tries in 2010-11:
- Both teams missed some golden chances throughout the evening, with Eric Staal’s deflection while all alone in front of the net in the third period likely being the most crucial wide shot of the evening. The Caps, who successfully killed all five Carolina power plays, appeared to give up the game tying tally to Staal late in the contest but the referee blew the whistle when he thought Holtby had covered the biscuit after a Canes rush. In reality, #70 did not have the puck, he bobbled it, but the official was behind the rookie goalie and from his angle thought it was frozen. Carolina was not happy, but on replay it was also pretty clear that the Capitals players heard the whistle and stopped playing.
- Carolina, who is currently in 9th place in the Eastern Conference and fighting for their playoff lives, carried much of the action. They played hard and used their speed to generate more quality chances. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau certainly noticed that and talked about the fortuitous nature of the Washington victory.
“I don’t know why, but I thought we were a little lucky tonight. They are overdue to beat us. Sometimes it’s a great matchup and sometimes you are hoping you don’t play them in the playoffs,” started Boudreau, “I didn’t think we were very sharp. They had 40 shots on goal, I think they carried the play to us. They were beating us to the puck. We made the plays in the third period that you had to make to win and that was it. They are probably pretty frustrated over there right now,” finished the Caps bench boss on the nature of the victory.
“They work very hard, I think they are well coached, they play us very well, I think they matchup very well against us. We seem to get in some penalty trouble when we play against them and they are very opportunistic. Tonight Holtby played great for us again…I think their speed, their defensive core, especially with [Joe] Corvo out there, he basically turns into another forward a lot of times. So it’s tough to keep your eye on him, you gotta really be aware when he is on the ice,” said Hendricks on why Carolina is a tough team for Washington to defeat.
- Holtby has really matured this season and he has been very good positionally in goal on this most recent recall. The few rebounds he allowed were typically in areas of little danger and his stick handling has helped generate offense, on some occasions. However, as the Caps bench boss mentioned after the tilt, sometimes #70 can get a little too courageous with the puck.
“He’s making it tough [to take him out of the lineup], three really good goalies. He obviously doesn’t want to leave the net, he ‘s doing a good job. I thought he was getting a little too brave sometimes tonight but I think he’s a young guy. In two or three years when he has all of his confidence about him every time he steps on the ice, that puck handling is going to be such an added bonus because he’s really good at it,” added Boudreau on the goalie the Caps drafted in the fourth round of the 2008 NHL entry draft.
- The Hendricks goal was his first after a long scoreless stretch and it was of the lunch pail variety. As Arnott came out of the box #26 went down to the ice and blocked a Canes point shot. The puck went out to center ice and #44 corralled it and headed in alone on Cam Ward (24 saves). Ward made the first save but Hendricks alertly followed the play and banged home the rebound for the game winning tally. Afterwards #26 talked about the goal.
“I knew the clock was ticking down there on the penalty. I was one of many guys sacrificing, blocking shots. I just got a fortunate bounce and that’s kind of the way it worked out. I got all of the confidence in the world in Arnott but I just knew if there would be a rebound I wanted to be the first one to get it. I just wanted to get [the puck] over his pad,” said Hendricks describing his game winning goal.
“That’s what he does, he’s going to get those dirty goals in the crease, he’s not going to get the end to end goals. I think it was his first one in 16 games or something like that so we are happy for him because he works really hard all of the time. So he deserves some success offensively,” added Boudreau on #26, who recently was rewarded with a two year contract extension after coming to training camp last September without an NHL deal.
- Carolina presents matchup problems, at times, for Washington and there were numerous instances where the Caps would send the biscuit up the boards only to see the Canes there to gather in errant passes. That pressure led to the high shot total for Coach Paul Maurice’s squad.
“A lot of times coming up the wall is the safe way but there are times we went D to D and their center sat low in the middle, it’s very hard to defend. But teams do it against us and I’d like to see us do it more but the times we did it we got it out no problem,” said forward Mike Knuble (1 assist) on Washington’s strategy to break the puck out of their own zone against a pressuring Hurricanes club.
- Without Nicklas Backstrom, their #1 center, and Mike Green, their #1 defensemen, the Caps managed to scrape out a win at home and keep their winning streak going. It wasn’t pretty but it is apparent this Washington squad is more comfortable this year playing from behind.
“We probably weren’t as sharp as we could be and they came out with more urgency then we did, they are battling for a playoff spot. It takes Ovie to get one shot, then a guy coming out of the penalty box and somebody’s on a breakaway and there’s two goals,” said Knuble summarizing the victory.
Notes: Marcus Johansson (1 assist, +1) had another strong outing logging 17:26 and his drop pass set up the Ovechkin goal…Washington lost the faceoff battle 31-30. Boyd Gordon was 6-4…Dennis Wideman played 22:13 and was +2..the Caps were 0 for 2 on the power play and the configuration used most often was Arnott and Wideman on the points with Ovechkin on the left half wall, Alexander Semin on the right side, and Brooks Laich in front of the cage…Ravens coach John Harbaugh was at the game and when shown on the in house video screen there was a mixture of cheers and boos from the crowd…the Caps face the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks at 12:30 pm on Sunday at the Verizon Center on NBC.